This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2009.
Those of you who visit pages besides the blog here at Idealware have noted that my article Using RSS Tools to Feed your Information Needs is up. If you’re new to Really Simple Syndication, my hope is that my guide will help you become more efficient and effective in your use of the web. If you’re an old hand at RSS, then I’m hoping the article will serve as a good tool when trying to impress others of the value of syndication.
RSS is a big topic, and writing the article was, in one respect, a challenge: in order to write a solid, intermediate guide to RSS use, I had to narrow the scope a bit. My initial interest and eventual obsession with RSS was sparked by two things: The overall usefulness of a tool that brings the web info I’m interested in to me; and the possibilities of using RSS as a publishing platform. So the article covers the first use well, but omits many cool things, like RSS Pipes, OPML, web site integration, and aggregators/portals. I hope to take these on over the next few weeks here in the blog.
Let’s start with web site integration. If you manage a web site, then you know that the name of the game is fresh content. While RSS will not eliminate the need to actively maintain your site, it can supplement your content in an automatically refreshing stream, as well as serve as a publishing medium.
If your site is built with a content management system (CMS), then you are probably already most of the way there. Most CMS’s have built in RSS aggregators that allow you to select the relevant content and publish it to a section of your site. If it isn’t a standard feature of your CMS, then browse the catalog of add-ons and extensions and you’ll probably find it there. Of course, if you use a commercial CMS, as opposed to an open source product, you might have to pay more for the add-on.
If you don’t have a CMS, a minimal amount of PHP scripting expertise can accomplish the same thing by using pre-built RSS functions libraries like Magpie RSS. Magpie is a set of PHP routines that you copy to your web server, allowing you to write minimal, simple code that identifies the feed and publishes it to a page. the heavy lifting is done by the Magpie — all you do is reference the feed and format the appearance of the items.
The simplest use is in republishing content on the web that’s pertinent to your site. You can aggregate news relevant to your cause, or sample topics of related interest from blogs on the web. For an example, look at the nonprofit technology news aggregator that I set up at nptech.info. This uses Drupal‘s built-in RSS aggregator to create a three-section web site republishing nptech blogs, items tagged “nptech” on the web, and general technology news.
But it doesn’t stop there — if you post open positions on Craigslist, you can eliminate the need to also update your web page by simply subscribing to a search for your open jobs. The strategy here is in using RSS not only to add content, but to maintain content that currently requires a Webmaster’s attention. If you post your events to a site like Upcoming.org, your events page can be a simple RSS feed. If you link to related sites and associates, you can automate that as well by setting up an account at a bookmarking site, such as Delicious, tagging sites that you want to be linked to your web site with a unique tag, and then subscribing to that tag. And this concept works just as well for graphical content at Flickr, or videos at Youtube.
I’ll be posting soon about additional ways to manage RSS feeds, and I want to take a deeper dive into Google Reader, which takes it all to another level. In the meantime, if you have great stories about integrating RSS feeds with your web site, please share in the comments.